Let's take a break from theology-ish topics to meet someone important, my dad:
Doors make him pretty happy. Born in a long line of inventive engineer types that loved working with their hands, my dad was raised tinkering in his dad's locksmith shop. Now he is one of the very best in the world at a very random, obscure specialty: Electrified door hardware. Yep, there are people like him in this world that are obsessed with door parts so you don't have to. And my dad happens to enjoy it immensely.
One of my earliest memories with him is at the age of 4 or 5, sitting next to him and my brother as we stuffing plastic bags with electric hinges and screws. As a kid, he would happily take me on job sites, dressed in an oversized shirt and my bright blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. The sight of a little blond girl with stick-on earrings and brightly-laced shoes- and cordless power drill in hand- made most of the construction managers chuckle. But my dad was proud to bring me along. There was an upside to all the exposure. My dad taught me an important childhood lesson from visiting so many different companies so young: always choose a job based on the quality of their cafeteria food.
My dad loves things that are tangible and you see in front of you- but things that are less-concrete, like emotions, are hard for him to understand and respond to. One Christmas when his fellow locksmith brother was visiting, our family went to a free museum day together. My dad and uncle walked through this architecturally-beautiful museum with world-class art and looked bored the whole time. They didn't stop to look at anything. But when we were exiting the building, they in unison lit up and started chatting like teenage-girls. They just found the most beautiful, exciting thing in the whole building for them: The exit door. They stopped for almost 10 minutes to oogle the hardware on the door and discuss all the details of the closer, door weight, strike, and panic bar. That's my dad. Not only really good at door hardware, he's also emotionally moved by it. But abstract expression doesn't make sense.
There is an upside to having a not-so-emotionally-expressive, yet still intensely loving father: He's the most practical person when it comes to loving. For him, loving doesn't look like saying cute things, it looks like showing up with an electric drill when I need a shelf hanged. If I need to borrow a tool or something for my car or computer- he acts like all his "dad" resources are my resources, too. If something needs to get done, he plans to do it right away. When I'm hungry, I know I can always count on him to feed me. He's taught me that love shows up and cares about the practical details of your life.
At the end of my junior year of college (which is located in my hometown) I casually mentioned to him my move out date from my apartment, and that it was the same day as my last final. That finals week was brutal. I biked home from that last exam, tears streaming down my face because I was so tired and had no idea how I would get my energy together to pack my stuff that night alone. I turned the corner into my parking lot, and there was my dad with his big Ford F150 truck and a bunch of Banker's boxes. Apparently just telling him my move out date was his invitation to come with his truck- because of course how you tell your daughter you are proud of her for finishing another year of school is showing up with your truck and tools.
My dad doesn't do Hallmark cards. But he does do things like this all the time.
Love is the big warm and fuzzy feelings. And love is the hand that that helps you pack boxes when you need to move. Love lends its car when it's needed, or drops everything and shows up when you get stranded somewhere. It makes Sunday morning blueberry coconut pancakes for your adult daughter after she's moved into her own house. Love is practical, it takes physical shape in our practical, physical world through those sorts of actions.
It's super fun for me now to express love in the same way. When a friend needs something practical, I love to show up and do it for them. Once when visiting an out-of-state friend, I noticed that something in their toilet was broken. I went to Home Depot and got the $5 replacement part and installed it myself. It was $5 and about 30 minutes of my time, but it meant the world to my friend and her roommates. After I left, I got a text message saying that she thought of me every time she flushed the toilet- not sure if that was the goal but it showed that it meant something to her. When a friend needs practical help, it makes me so happy to do it. I get a big smile and think, "My dad would do this- he loves this same way."
My dad loves showing up with his tool kit and so do I. He buys small things that you forget you need, and checks fluid levels in the car before you go on a road trip- and I love doing the same for others. I love cooking for friends that could use a good homemade meal after a stressful week, just like my dad would do. I'm single, and know that when you are navigating life without a partner to help, practical, boring stuff can be rough. Sometimes the best way of loving my single friends is to talk over health insurance options or help research the answer to a grown-up-real-world problem. That's loving like my dad loves.
Showing people I care about the love my dad showed me is my favorite. It's a way for me to show that love of showing up in the practical, everyday stuff- of continuing the love he poured into me my whole life into the world today.
Now, I can make this a little theological. When I think of the ways that God loves me, I can't help but want to love the way my Father loves. Of course, God is more emotionally connected and expressive than my own dad, but you get the point. My Father loves taking care of orphans, and so do I. My Father loves to restore what's been broken, and so do I. My Father loves listening to the isolated and lonely in the world, and so do I. My Father loves and does justice, and so do I. I want that love that my Father has for the world to be demonstrated and expressed through my own actions. When I do, I get a smile and think, "My Dad would do this- He loves this same way."